The Articles of Confederation, adopted during the War for Independence, established a system in which most power was held by the individual states rather than in a strong central government. By the mid-1780s, rebellions in several states–including one led by Daniel Shays in Massachusetts–illustrated the drawbacks of such limited government. This account of the Rebellion is from a dozen years after the fact.
After the outbreak of armed conflict between British soldiers and American colonial troops, the Second Continental Congress struggled to agree on how best to proceed. While most of the delegates were not leaning toward independence (though they would be within a year), there were delegates who saw the colonists’ military action as justified, paving the way toward a wider war and, eventually, independence. However there were also delegates who were eager to reconcile with Britain and put the fighting behind them.
While the issues at stake in the years leading up to the American War of Independence largely affected political and economic elites, the broader communities participated in actions designed to bend the British will. One method of protest was to boycott British goods, such as tea. These documents, from 1774 and 1775, illustrate the role of women in carrying out these boycotts.
Written by Samuel Adams, and approved by the Massachusetts House of Representatives, this letter was sent to the assemblies of England’s other North American colonies in response to the Townshend Acts. When a copy reached the British government, the Massachusetts leaders to revoke it, which they did not.
Although the Salem, Massachusetts witchcraft trials are the most well-known, courts in New England had dealt with the perceived issue of witchcraft for decades. This case, from Connecticut, describes the case of Elizabeth Knap. At the conclusion the author provides his own assessment of the evidence in the case.
Bacon’s Rebellion, a Virginia uprising led by Nathaniel Bacon in 1676, was an example of the growing class divisions in the colonial Chesapeake as well as the continuing conflict between Native American tribes and the Virginians. This document details the rebels’ demands.
During the late 1600s, there was increasing conflict between the New England colonies and Native American tribes. Much of this conflict resulted from the New Englanders’ enormous appetite for land and increasing Native desperation to not see their way of life extinguished. The most devastating of these conflicts was Metacom’s War (also known as King Philip’s War).
One example of the evidence we have about life during this time were “captivity narratives.” These were accounts of the kidnapping and eventual ransom of (generally) English women by hostile (to the English) Natives. This excerpt, by Mary Rowlandson of Massachusetts who was a captive during Metacom’s War, is one of the most well-known.
Rowlandson organized her account as a series of “removes”–each discussion one location of her long, mobile captivity.
Note: this is a longer-than-usual excerpt, so allow yourself plenty of time to get through it!
The Dutch, initially led by Henry Hudson, an Englishman employed by the Dutch East India Company, arrived on Manhattan Island in 1609. This account is from over a century later, and describes the first meeting of Europeans and Natives on Manhattan.
The relationship between the French and the Native American tribes they encountered was a product of the French goals in North America. Unlike the Spanish they did not arrive with large armies or attempt to enslave the Natives. Unlike the English, the French did not attempt to establish large-scale settlements. In many, but not all, cases, the relationship between the French and the Native tribes was based on mutual gain–the French gained access to natural resources such as beaver pelts and the Natives gained access to high quality European goods.
Cultural differences did exist, however, as evidenced by this account from a leader of the Micmac tribe, recorded by a French priest named Chrestian LeClerq.
The Pueblo Revolt, led by a native leader named Pope, resulted in a significant—but temporary—lost of territory for the Spanish in North America. This description of the motivations of the rebelling natives illustrates the cultural tensions between the native peoples and the occupying Spanish.